Following a journey from Australia to Canada that was so hectic it seemed like a reality show in itself, Team Australia finally arrived at the UFC training centre, in the mountain country outside of Montreal, Quebec.

Although us Aussies were all tired and jet-lagged from the trip, we were still itching to fight, and as the Canadians filed out of their van, we were immediately sizing them up, telling each other who we’d fight. After all unanimously agreeing that we’d fight any of the Canucks, and myself and the other Aussie welterweights confirming we’d also have a crack at the Canadian 185ers, it was time for both teams to head into the gym itself and check out what would become our second home for the journey ahead.

Immediately, there was a distinct difference in the teams. The Canadians were noticeably louder and seemingly cocky in their demeanor, whilst us Aussie boys were far more laid back and team-focused.

We met our coaches who we’d be working with during our initial days; a couple more were to arrive next week. Kyle Noke, our head coach, was the stereotypical Aussie—laid back, friendly, but serious about what we were there to do. All I can remember from his initial speech to us was that we were here to do a job, and there was to be no crying, because we’re Aussies. These words would stick with me during my entire time in the house. Just simple orders from our leader, and I was determined to stick to them. No backing down, give no quarter, and say it how it is. This suited my style well!

After our short interaction at the gym, we headed off to see the place we’d be living during our stay. After a short trip winding through hills, with the picturesque landscape I’d always imagined of Canada, we arrived at a big, impressive log cabin. We burst in, and immediately scramble for the prime real estate—any bed that isn’t a top bunk! After getting our beds secured, we set to work cooking dinner as a team. Everybody chipped in to get the meal together. The trials and tribulations we encountered on our trip to Canada definitely brought us closer together as a team, to the point that by the time we got into the house, we were essentially already like brothers. Except Dan Kelly, he was my dad. My grumpy dad. (Love you, Kelly!)

The Canadians arrived and were as loud as before, but we all seemed to co-exist in the house fairly peacefully to start with. Things were respectful, peaceful—almost too peaceful. Surely, 16 fighters can’t all get along without a hiccup? We’ll see, it’s early days yet.

Time blurred because of the time-zone change. I felt as though I’d been awake for a week, and suddenly it’s time for the first fight announcement. We knew the Canadians had control of the fight pick, as they won the coin toss. Myself and the other Aussie boys were chomping at the bit, and everybody was assuming they would be picked first. Although we might not have had the ideal days leading into this moment, we all knew this is what we came here for—to show what we are made of, prove we have what it takes to be in the UFC, and ultimately win this tournament.

Patrick Cote announced the Canadian fighter first: Kajan Johnson. He’s one of the louder, more brash members of Team Canada. Next, it was time for Patrick to call out the Australian fighter, and as he called my name, I was not surprised, shocked or intimidated. We were all expecting to be picked first for various reasons, and being a natural 155-pound fighter, I thought that was as good a reason as any for them to pick me.

I was excited, however, at the prospect of fighting this guy. The word was that Kajan was an experienced veteran, well-rounded in all areas, and has faced some top talent. This was the guy I actually wanted to fight, and now it was time to push everything else out of my mind and focus on the task at hand.

That night, I overheard the Canadians in the communal living room, talking about how inexperienced Team Australia was, how they would blast through us. I took exception to it and thought I’d set the tone for the rest of our time there. I wanted them to know that if they had an issue with any of us, let us know and we’d sort it out. Talking trash, and especially talking behind people’s backs, has never been something that sat well with me. And so, half asleep and probably not making much sense, I confronted the Canucks in the living room about the issue.

We exchanged some words, and I reiterated that we hadn’t come all that way to play games, we’d come to fight and we weren’t going to hide from anyone. Despite all the obstacles we’d had so far, us Aussies were stepping up to every challenge, and they still had the nerve to be talking trash about us? I was legitimately angry, and this emotion stayed with me into the fight.

Fast forward to fight day. My mind was in a good place, and I was relaxed, as usual. I know what I have to do, and how to do it. The moment wasn’t getting to me—big moments like this haven’t ever really bothered me—and I was ready to go. My coaches had done some research and agreed we’d push Kajan to the cage and work him there for a while, eventually break his will with intensity and pressure. Sounded good to me.

As the fight began, I led with some jabs and drove to the cage as planned, but somewhere in there a glancing knee opened my eyebrow up, and there’s plenty of blood! I secured a takedown, but Kajan managed to scramble up, and I immediately secured a bodylock and got my second takedown. I began to open up with some ground-and-pound, but was too loose with my pressure, allowing Kajan to spin under for a leglock.

I missed my initial defense, and found myself in a tight knee bar, which then transitioned into a heel hook. This thing was tight. Very tight! Time seemed to slow down, as I consciously decided this dream was worth more than my leg or walking for the next few month. I kept fighting, was able to kick Kajan’s grips off, and spun out of the leglock.

The scramble saw us back on the feet. We exchanged some more blows, and I got blinkered on another takedown. I feel this was the major turning point where I failed to take my foot off the pedal and find my rhythm. As I pushed for the takedown, I ended up on the ground in terrible position, and Kajan immediately took my back, slipping in the rear-naked choke and getting his win.

Words can’t express what I was feeling in that moment. All the work over the years prior, the grueling training camp leading up to this, the journey over, all leading up to this fight, and I blew it. It hurt so much knowing that I’d made the biggest mistake of my professional career, on the biggest stage of my career.

I hate losing, more than I love winning. I’m not a sore loser, I just hate it. Not a single part of me is content with a loss, especially knowing I didn’t perform anywhere near my best that day. But I commit, in the moments after that loss, to proving to everybody that I’m so much better than that. I will show the world what I’m really capable of, and this thought will be at the forefront of my mind every moment of every day until I find redemption.

I’m not about to make excuses for the way I performed. It’s not my style, and I’m sure there will be people making them for me, for whatever reason. My job now is to stay ready for any sniff of an opportunity, to train with unmatched intensity, and I know that after learning from my mistakes and the other experiences leading up to this fight, I will be a much better fighter for it.

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About The Author

Brendan O'Reilly
TUF: Nations Blogger

Brendan "Badger" O'Reilly prides himself on being a physical and aggressive fighter. He is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and is a former Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling state champion in Australia. Before discovering MMA, Brendan was a representative Rugby League player, while also competing in rodeos. He set aside both sports to focus solely on succeeding in mixed martial arts. Outside of competing as a professional fighter, Brendan owns and operates Gamebred Combat Club, a Cross Fit and MMA gym, in Brisbane, Australia and also boasts a degree in Applied Science.

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